BUJUMBURA, 4 April 2011 (PLUSNEWS) - Hundreds of Burundians living with HIV/AIDS recently staged a demonstration in the capital, Bujumbura, to protest against a lack of treatment.
Men, women and children lay on the ground for 10 minutes to "show the government that if nothing is done rapidly - this week, this month - we will all die", said Jeanne Gapiya, a leading Burundian HIV activist.
The protest was staged on 29 March by REMUA, Reseau de Reinforcement Mutuel des Acteurs de la Première Ligne, a network of six NGOs providing HIV treatment to more than 9,000 people - about one-third of all people receiving antiretrovirals in Burundi. REMUA includes, among others, the National Association for the support of People Living with HIV/AIDS, ANSS; the Society of Women Against AIDS, SWAA, and APECOS, the Association for the Support of Children Orphaned through HIV.
According to Gapiya, despite funding from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2010, organizations caring for HIV-positive people had not signed agreements with the National Council for HIV/AIDS Control, CNLS, to access the cash.
The Global Fund approved about US$35 million to fight HIV in Burundi under its eighth round of grants. An estimated 150,000 Burundians are living with HIV; the pandemic has left more than 20,000 orphans in the central African country.
"The funds are there, we do not know why the agreements are not signed," she said. "There is nothing worse than funds not totally absorbed in spite of the needs... patients really need to be assisted."
Global Fund grants to Burundi are channelled through a coordinating body called the Intensification and Decentralization Programme for the Fight against HIV/AIDS (PRIDE), which funds CNLS, which in turn pays for HIV-positive people's healthcare. According to Sabine Ntakarutimana, Minister of Public Health and HIV/AIDS control, problems with the implementation of PRIDE had caused the delay in disbursement of funds.
"In the drafting of the PRIDE project, the salaries of January  up to June  for workers from HIV organizations were not taken into account," she said, adding that Global Fund approval for a revised budget was pending. "In spite of the needs, we cannot use the funds without the approval of the Global Fund."
At a press conference on Wednesday, Ntakarutimana said following the first complaint from the NGOs several months ago, she had written to health facilities instructing them to continue to provide HIV treatment free of charge as the government waited for funds. However, NGOs say many health centres had refused to comply with the minister's directive without official agreements being signed.
Théophile Sakubu, communications officer at the network of people living with HIV/AIDS, RBP+, said access to medicines for opportunistic infections was of particular concern, as many of these were not on the list of drugs provided free by CNLS.
Burundi has suffered several setbacks in its fight to treat HIV, first missing out [ http://www.plusnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=81105 ] on Global Fund grants in 2007 and facing problems with the supply [ http://www.plusnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportID=90128 ] of medicines for opportunistic infections in 2010.
Speaking to IRIN/PlusNews during the demonstration, a representative for orphaned and vulnerable children said: "If today nothing is done, what will become of them [orphans]? We have the right to life, to a future like other children," he said. "My brothers and sisters will now get opportunistic diseases. With no means, how will they get medical care?"
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